Armenia: The oligarchs are eating the forest: SIGN THE PETITION!
Rampant deforestation: Armenia, located in the Caucuses Mountains Eurasia, has lost a large portion of its forests in recent decades. In 1990, 30 percent of land was forested. Now forest covers less than 7 percent of Armenia. Logging, much of it illegal, is being carried out on a large scale — the wood being used for home heating (natural gas increasingly expensive) and export.
The Teghut mine: One of the best preserved areas of old growth trees, the Teghut forest, located in the nation’s north, is now threatened. The Armenian government has approved a major copper and molybdenum mine in the Teghut region that will have a devastating and irreversible impact on thousands of acres of old forest, grassland, endangered plants and animals, and natural resources. If your time is limited sign the petition here and now! If you want more info keep reading.
As shown in the photo of the logs below, clear cutting of the Teghut forest has already begun for the mine. Excavation will leave a massive open pit — 600 meters deep — with the overburden and tailings dumped into surrounding valleys (similar to mountain-top removal). The government has allocated nearly 5,000 acres to the mining company, of which about 4,000 are forested and the remaining nearly 2,000 acres are are community lands.
Economic and health impacts: The project will also have many adverse impacts on the two villages in the area, Teghut and Shnogh and traditional village economies. Toxic drainage from the mine, tailings and sediment ponds will likely contaminate ground and surface water critical for domestic use and irrigation. The deforestation is likely to result in massive soil erosion, landslides, the clogging of streams and loss of agricultural lands and a major step backwards with regard to sustainable development.
Benefits? According to project’s Environmental Impact Statement, the ore in the mine is worth more than $20 billion. Only a paltry 1 or 2 % of this wealth would benefit the public assets of the nation. (Footnote). The big winners — the Armenian Copper Programme, part of a larger conglomerate, Vallex.
The mine company, Vallex, has promised about 1000 jobs to people in the area. Given, dire poverty and high unemployment rates, many village residents support the mine – even though the pay is low and the will last only until the ore runs out in 20 years or thereabouts. However, residents of the area are beginning to get a taste of their future with the mine. First development process is producing clouds of dust. Secondly, several people were beaten by Vallex security guards. As a result residents blocked the road to the mine area for several days until the company fired the culpable guards.
Growing opposition to corruption and oligarchy: In Armenia an increasingly militant coalition–n has sprung up to fight the project. There is also a growing to the mine project in Armenian Diaspora – here and other in countries. Organizations in Armenia and Europe have also raised critical issues with regard to governance. In the case of Teghut, government officials were charged with embezzlement after selling massive volumes of wood and pocketing the equivalent of $12,000 (U.S).
But the issue is far bigger. The government’s approval of the mining permit was granted without public involvement, without transparency and in violation of numerous laws and international agreements (e.g. protection of forests). For more information go to the post on the Armenian Environmental Network (AEN) blog. For a good description of the government corruption and collusion on environmental issues see the excellent report by the Policy Forum of Armenia. Ekos-Squared previously reported on similar rule of law issues with regard to the commercial kiosks being built in a Yerevan (capital of Armenia) public park. Nearly every Armenian, I’ve talked to has told of rampant corruption and the rule of a small number of oligarchical families that control major developments of natural resources.
Finally: It is essential to stop the growing trend for money to influence government decisions not only in Armenia but right here in America.
What’s at stake (left) and what Vallex and the Armenian Government plan (right).
The Armenia Connection: As readers may know, my wife Claudia and I spent two weeks (last Sep/Oct) in Armenia visiting my son Yevgeniy Cole who is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer there. We saw quite a bit of the country, got to meet with many people in the Capital Yerevan including environmentalists, villagers, shop owners and more. Being an unabashed eco-hugger; I was immediately drawn into the issues including deforestation and waste disposal. I now serve as a member of the Advisory Board of the Armenian Environmental Network. Our trip included a visit to the Armenian Tree Project’s nursery in Karen. ATP has planted nearly 4 million trees in rural areas, villages and cities since 1994.